Most people have had a cavity at some point in their lives. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 4 adults in the United States have untreated cavities. If you’ve had a cavity before, then you know that cavities can be painful and expensive to fix. So what does a cavity feel like? How can you tell if you have one, and what should you do if you do? Keep reading to find out!
How to Tell if You Have a Cavity
The difference between a cavity vs stain is often not well known to the general public. To determine if you have a cavity look for the following markers.
What Does a Cavity Feel Like? (From Tooth Sensitivity Perspective)
Cavities can also cause your teeth to be sensitive to the following:
- Sweet Food
- Sweet Drinks
This is because the cavity exposes the inner layers of your tooth, which are much more sensitive than tooth enamel.
In a healthy tooth, your enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) protects these inner layers from temperature and sweet sensitivities. When a cavity eats through your enamel it exposes the inner layer known as dentin. Dentin contains nerve endings which react to these stimuli, causing this sensitivity.
What Does a Cavity Feel Like? (To Touch)
If you were to poke at the supposed location of a cavity there are two things you would immediately notice in comparison to regular tooth structure: depth and texture.
A cavity will feel like a small hole or depression in your tooth. This is because cavities are actual damage to your tooth enamel. They are created by bacteria that live in your mouth and excrete acids. These acids destroy tooth enamel, which is the hard, outermost layer of your teeth, creating a depression.
Additionally, cavities tend to be softer and stickier than the normal surface of a tooth. This is because tooth enamel is very hard (it’s one of the hardest substances in your body!) and smooth. A cavity, on the other hand, is a break in this tooth enamel, so it will feel softer to the touch.
What Does a Cavity Look Like? (To the eye)
Cavities can also be visible to the naked eye. If you take a close look at your teeth in a well-lit room, you may be able to see a small, dark spot on the surface of your tooth. Typically, cavities are usually light brown or dark yellow in color.
They are usually small at first but can grow over time. If a cavity is not treated, it will continue to grow larger and deeper.
Cavities can form anywhere on your tooth but are most common in areas that are difficult to keep clean. This includes the back teeth (molars), gaps between your teeth, and ridges along your teeth.
What Does a Cavity Look Like? (On an X-Ray)
If you go to the dentist for a routine cleaning and exam, they will likely take X-rays of your teeth. This is because cavities can also be seen on X-rays.
In general, dark spots on an X-ray indicate areas of less density. This is why bones and teeth, which are fairly dense, typically show up as white.
Areas of less density, like cavities, will show up as dark spots. This is because cavities are created by the loss of tooth enamel. Enamel is the hard, outermost layer of your teeth and it’s what makes them white. When this layer is damaged or lost, it will show up as a dark spot on an X-ray.
How to Prevent a Cavity
The best way to prevent a cavity is to practice good oral hygiene. This includes:
- Brushing twice a day: You should brush at least twice a day, using fluoride toothpaste, to remove plaque and bacteria. Remember to also brush the very back teeth and close to the gums. These are the most commonly forgotten areas.
- Flossing at least once a day (recommended twice): Flossing can help remove plaque and bacteria from areas that your toothbrush can’t reach. Make sure to floss under the gum line, along both sides of the tooth.
- Limit the number of sweets eaten: Eat sugary foods and drinks in moderation. Cavities form when the bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and excrete acids. The more sugar you eat, the more likely you are to get cavities.
- Use gentle circular motions: Brushing too hard can actually damage your gums. Use gentle circular motions while brushing and avoid scrubbing back and forth.
- Visit your dentist regularly: Visiting your dentist regularly can help you keep your teeth healthy. They can also identify any problems early on before they become serious.
Treatment for Cavities
If you believe you have a cavity it is important to see a dentist to confirm this and to get an individualized treatment plan. Typically the following treatments for cavities are given:
Doing nothing is typically not recommended. This is because if a cavity is not treated, it will continue to grow and get larger. This can eventually lead to serious health problems, like an infection, which is much more painful and costly to repair.
The only case where doing nothing is a possibility is when the cavity has not yet reached the dentin layer of your tooth. As stated previously, the enamel is the hard, outermost layer of your tooth and it’s what makes them white. The dentin is the layer under the enamel. It’s not as hard as enamel but it’s still fairly strong. However, once a cavity reaches the dentin layer, it can spread quickly and become much larger.
If your dentist believes that the cavity has not reached the dentin layer, they may recommend watchful waiting. This means that they will closely monitor the cavity to make sure it does not get any larger. With proper oral hygiene, the cavity may not get any larger and may even remineralize on its own.
The next option is to get a filling. A filling is when the dentist removes the decay from the tooth and then fills the space with material, often times made of metal, porcelain, or resin. Fillings are a great option because they can help to restore the function and strength of the tooth. On top of the cost of a dental filling is less than the cost of a dental crown they are often less noticeable than crowns which is an added bonus.
Fillings are used when the cavity is small which is why it is important to catch cavities early on. The earlier a cavity is caught, the less damage it will do to the tooth.
If you have a large cavity, a filling may not be the best option. In these cases, a dental crown may be necessary. A dental crown is when the dentist removes the decay from the tooth and then places a “cap” over the tooth. The crown can be made from a variety of different materials, such as metal, porcelain, or resin.
Crowns can help to restore the function and strength of the tooth. They also provide added protection for the tooth from future decay.
In some cases, a cavity can be so large that it reaches the pulp of the tooth. The pulp is the innermost layer of the tooth and contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. When a cavity reaches the pulp, it can cause an infection.
If you have an infection in the pulp of your tooth, you will need a root canal. A root canal is when the dentist removes the decay from the tooth, as well as the pulp. The tooth is then filled and sealed.
In addition to the cost of a root canal, additional procedures, such as crowns, are typically required after a root canal. This makes them extremely costly options that should be prevented by proper oral hygiene.
In some cases, a cavity can be so large that it is not possible to save the tooth. When this happens, the dentist will recommend an extraction. An extraction is when the tooth is removed from the mouth.
Extractions are typically a last resort option and are only recommended when the tooth is severely damaged and cannot be saved.
While the cost of a tooth extraction is relatively cheap, you may need to get a dental implant or a bridge to replace the tooth. Dental implants and bridges are both costly procedures.
The contents of this website, such as text, graphics, images, and other material are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be substituted for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nothing on this website constitutes the practice of medicine, law or any other regulated profession.
No two mouths are the same, and each oral situation is unique. As such, it isn’t possible to give comprehensive advice or diagnose oral conditions based on articles alone. The best way to ensure you’re getting the best dental care possible is to visit a dentist in person for an examination and consultation.